Op/Ed

Editorial: Sen Leahy’s impact on the state will be legendary

ANGELO LYNN

It’s hard to overstate the impact Sen. Patrick Leahy has had on Vermont, and the nation, during his 48-year tenure at the U.S. Senate. Reading a complete list of his many accomplishments would be mind-numbing, so his staff consolidated them into broader categories for media so readers could grasp the big picture, as Addison Independent Senior Reporter John Flowers reports in today’s issue.

But we encourage readers to peel back the covers on each of those broader brushstrokes to contemplate just what his 48 years represent: 

• In casting over 17,000 votes on the Senate floor, for example, imagine the hours of discussion, research and study that goes into many of those decisions. The late-night reading of both sides of the issue, the staff conversations to determine the best way forward. 

And when introducing legislation himself, he would always run it through one tried-and-true litmus test: Would it measure up to Vermonters’ expectations and the principles imparted to him by his family?

• Sen. Leahy makes the remarkable observation that he has served with 20% of all U.S. senators in the country’s 246-year history. That timespan runs from the end of the Vietnam War to the end of the Cold War, America’s dominance as a superpower, the emergence of the digital age and the rising power of technology firms, the auspices of climate change and campaigns like Vice President Al Gore’s to fight it (with Leahy as an early believer), 9-11, the War in Iraq, the 2008 Recession that was sparked by the home mortgage scandal during George W. Bush’s second term, the war in Afghanistan, surviving Trump’s autocratic impulses and his partisan politics of division, President Biden’s important but narrow victory, the Jan. 6 assault on the nation’s Capitol, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — to name just a few of the immediate highpoints that come to mind during those five decades. 

That crush of history, the rapid advance of constant change, is just part of the challenge facing senators who must anticipate the legislation required to thoughtfully meet the needs of their constituents. That’s the work real senators do; not the grandstanding in front of tv cameras, nor the partisan hooliganism too many of today’s Republicans practice; but the honest work it takes to consider and adopt policies to solve tomorrow’s problems.

• Leahy did that with several key initiatives: the Leahy Law and the War Victims Fund were two of his favorites. On the ag committee he championed legislation that helped legitimatize organic farming enroute to creating what is now a $55-$65 billion industry. He’s pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into efforts to clean up Lake Champlain and other public waterways, advocated for the addition of more than 140,000 acres in the Green Mountain Forest, and, more locally, he helped establish the 16,000-acre Moosalamoo National Recreation Area (on Addison County’s southeastern flank) and helped fund almost $5 million in trail and other improvements in the past few years. All are transformative accomplishments.

• And there is so much more: His work leading the world to oppose land mines is legendary; he authored the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Innocence Protection Act; he fought against Trump’s undermining of America’s NATO allies and pointed out the ex-president’s efforts to alienate our allies while bolstering dictators like Russia’s Vladmir Putin.

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Throughout it all, Leahy has also served with dignity, grace, humility and a good sense of gamesmanship and fun. An avid Batman fan, he’s played bit roles in several of those epic movies; as an avid photographer, he has photographed many historic events as only a top leader of the Senate could — partly as an historian, and partly to capture the everyday heroics of life in the nation’s capital. 

Moreover, in an era of extreme political strife, Sen. Leahy has been one of the nation’s most esteemed political statesmen; an honest broker whose word could be trusted and whose motives to serve the public good were always transparent. He never strayed from his Vermont roots and like U.S. Senators Robert Stafford and George Aiken before him, he was always a man of integrity whose moral compass never wavered. 

That’s no small feat in a political world of highly competitive egos and social media platforms built to exaggerate outlandish statements. It is no small complement, then, to simply say Sen. Leahy gave Vermont his all for 48 years — to the state’s everlasting gratitude.

Angelo Lynn

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